James, The Lord’s Brother
April 23rd, 1978 @ 10:50 AM
JAMES, THE LORD’S BROTHER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-23-78 10:50 a.m.
And this is the pastor bringing the message out of the Book of Acts entitled, James, the Lord’s Brother. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in the very center of it [Acts 15]; and this morning, in the Jerusalem conference called for to consider the question whether a man could be saved just by trusting Jesus, or whether as all the Judaizers avowed, you must be saved by trusting Jesus and by keeping all the ceremonial, ritualistic legislation of Moses. Just as we have today, I would say practically all of the Christian world is just like that: in order to be saved you must trust the Lord Jesus, and you must do good works; or you must trust the Lord Jesus, and you must be baptized; or you must trust the Lord Jesus, and you must belong to mother church. In so many areas of the Christian life do you find something added to the atoning blood of our Lord; as though He were not able in Himself, His blood is not sufficient in itself, the atonement is not complete in its sacrifice, but we must add something to it; something we can do. That was the question that concerned the conference held in Jerusalem.
Now our message this morning lies in something that you see in this convocation of all the leaders of the then-Christian world. Last time that I preached, I preached on the subject that they faced, that confronted them: how a man can be saved. Now today, we are going to look at something that if you were not careful, you might miss; but it is something that is very wonderfully important and significant as I read it.
Beginning at the twelfth verse of the fifteenth chapter of Acts, it says, “All the multitude gave silence, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul, declaring the miracles and wonders of God among the Gentiles by them” [Acts 15:12]. Now look: “And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me” [Acts 15:13]. Then he speaks of how God revealed His will to Simon Peter concerning Cornelius and the Gentile household in Caesarea [Acts 15:14]. Then he quotes from the prophets confirming the opening of the door to the Gentiles [Acts 15:15-18]. Then he says, verse 19, “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles have turned to God” [Acts 15:19]. When I read that, do you not sense something about this man? James answers, when all of the debate and the forensic discussion is complete; he finally answers, then in verse 19 he avows, “Wherefore, my sentence is. . . .” [Acts 15:19].
Whoever this man is named James, he stands as the preeminent figure in all the Christian world in this first century. Not Paul, not Barnabas, not John, not Simon Peter; it is this man James. So taking my cue from this conference, I look at it in the Bible and find a marvelous and wonderful thing. First of all, his name. His name is, I suppose, one of the commonest in Jewish households. His name in Hebrew is “Jacob,” and as it goes through Hellenization, it comes out in our language “James.” His name is Jacob; in English, James.
There are three James’ of note in the New Testament. One: James the son of Zebedee, the brother of John [Matthew 4:21], one of the apostles [Matthew 10:2]. He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I, in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 12:1-2]; he was the first apostle to lay down his life for the Lord. And because of the cutting down of his life, even at the very beginning of his apostolic ministry, we are sorrowful to think that what he might have been and what he might have done lies in the world beyond the skies. He was martyred here. The other James we know nothing, except as an apostle he was called James the less, or James the little [Matthew 10:3; Mark 15:40]. The third James in the New Testament is this man [Acts 15:13].
And now will you consider how great and preeminent this man was. He is one of the most striking and impressive of all of the figures in the first Christian century. As I say, we take our cue from this passage I have just read. It is James who presides over the conference in Jerusalem, and it is this James who gives a final judgment [Acts 15:13, 19] like a presiding chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. When you read this same account, in the personal viewpoint of the apostle Paul, he describes this same conference that we read in Acts 15 in the second chapter of Galatians.
Now you look at something: Paul says that he goes to Jerusalem in order to be present for the discussion of this matter concerning how a man can be saved. And he says, “When James and Simon Peter and John . . . saw, perceived, the grace that was given unto me, they gave me [and Barnabas] the right hands of fellowship” [Galatians 2:9]. Do you see something there? All of my life I have thought of Simon Peter and John, and then however after they might be named. Do you see something here? Whom does he name first in Jerusalem when we went up for to consider this matter? James, first, then Simon Peter and John [Galatians 2:9].
You will find this James as the leader of the whole Christian world, and especially as pastor of the mother church in Jerusalem. For example, when Simon Peter was delivered by an angel out of prison from the hand of Herod Agrippa I [Acts 12:5-10]—when he came to the little band praying for him, he said, “Go tell James, and the brethren” what God has done for with me [Acts 12:17]. In the first chapter of the Book of Galatians, when Paul came back from Arabia [Galatians 1:17-18], he says he went up to Jerusalem and visited James [Galatians 1:19]. In the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Acts, when they had gathered the great collection and offering from the churches of Achaia and Macedonia and Galatia, Paul goes up to Jerusalem, and he presents the offering to James [Acts 21:17-21]. And he listens to James as to how he can do in order to allay the bitter antipathy of the Jewish people toward him [Acts 21:20-26]. Will you notice also that when Jude writes his letter, he introduces himself as the brother of James [Jude 1]. This man is the great towering giant of the first century Christian world.
Now, you find it no less in apocryphal literature. That is, all of that vast literature that is not inspired but is a part of the Christian life and tradition. For example, there is an apocryphal book entitled the Apocalypse of James; for example, there is an apocryphal book entitled the Ascents of James—that is, what James spoke on each one of the steps as he entered up into the temple.
Hegesippus is the first Christian historian. He was born about 100 AD. He was born [after] the apostles, all of them had died—such as John. Hegesippus has a long passage about the martyrdom of this James, pastor of the church in Jerusalem. He says that he was holy from his mother’s womb. I started to write all that out and read it here—but for lack of time. But I wish I did have the time to do it. It is wonderful to listen to a man born in 100 AD writing about these great men of God in the New Testament. Hegesippus says that James was holy from his mother’s womb. He says that he was a Nazirite. He didn’t cut his hair. He didn’t drink strong drink. He was a vegetarian. He did not eat meat. And gave his whole life to prayer and the worship of God. Hegesippus says that his knees were dry and hard, like camel’s knees, from bowing on the pavement in the temple of God, praying for the people. Hegesippus says that so holy and devout was James that he was called “the Just.”
And that as the days passed, appeal was made to him that he stand on the gable of the temple and speak to the great throngs below at Passover season against the vast numbers who were turning in faith to the Lord Jesus. Now may I parenthesize there? Evidently the holiness and the ceremonial mosaic rectitude of this man so impressed the Jewish nation that they were inclined to forget that he was a pastor of a Christian church. So Hegesippus says, “They placed him on a gable of the temple to make appeal to the Passover throngs against accepting the Lord Jesus.”
But instead, James glorified the Master, the Messiah, the Christ of God. And when he did so, it infuriated the scribes and the elders and the priests. And they cast him down. Not being slain by the fall, he was stoned. And then Hegesippus says, “A fuller”—that is, a tailor who has to do with clothing and whose club beats the cloth—“a fuller then clubbed him to death so that he died.” Then Hegesippus places a sentence immediately thereafter. He says, “And straightway the legions of Vespasian came.” And of course, Vespasian and his son Titus destroyed the nation, destroyed the city, and destroyed the holy temple. Hegesippus says that the reason for the judgment of God falling thus upon the nation that it was destroyed was because of their clubbing to death and stoning to death this man James.
Well, when you look at the continuing story of this in Christian literature beyond the New Testament, it follows the same pattern. It is an astonishing pattern. Clement of Alexandria, one of the great scholars of all time, born about 150 AD, follows that same story concerning the asceticism, the Nazarite vow, the holiness and the martyrdom of this James. Eusebius, I suppose the greatest Christian historian who has ever lived; Eusebius of Caesarea, born 275 AD, the man who wrote the Nicene Creed, Eusebius recounts all of this in his ecclesiastical history.
And to my surprise, at least when I was first introduced to it, the only one of these Christian leaders about whom Josephus writes is this man James. His story is a little different. Josephus says that when Festus the Roman procurator died, the one before whom Paul made his final appeal, that when Festus died—between the time of the death of that Roman procurator and the coming of the following governor, that Ananias the high priest called the Sanhedrin together and condemned James and stoned him to death; for which, Josephus says, the Roman government deposed him in shame and ignominy—all of which is to bring to our minds an amazing thing: this man James, who is the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, and the towering personality over all the Christians of the first century.
Well, we are now going to look at his family. James was the leader of the family of our Lord who lived in Nazareth, and he was not a believer [John 7:5]. You know, I turn that over in my mind and—lest we condemn him, as I am going to look at these Scriptures; lest we condemn him too harshly—I just wonder in myself: what if I had been in his place and I had been brought up with Jesus, in the same household and in the same family? I could understand how I could love the Lord, admire the Lord; but worship Him, believe Him to be the Son of God [John 20:31], and the Messiah promised by the Old Testament prophets? [John 1:45]. Just thinking, I don’t know. Anyway, James was like that.
Looking at the Bible, it says in the third chapter of Mark, “And when Jesus’ friends heard of Him, they went out to lay hold on Him: for they said, He is mad. He has lost His mind.” The translation of the King James Version is “He is beside Himself” [Mark 3:21]. And who are these people that seek to lay hold on Him and who say He is beside Himself, He is mad, He has lost His mind? Well, right here in that same chapter, a few verses down, it says, “There came His brethren and His mother, and, standing without, said unto Him, calling Him” [Mark 3:31]. The family thinks He has lost His mind, He is beside Himself, He is mad! And when Jesus heard it, do you remember His famous reply? “Who is My mother, and who are My brethren? . . . Behold My mother and My brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and My sister, and My mother” [Mark 3:33-35].
Now as though that were not enough, you listen to this passage as I read it in the sixth chapter in the Book of Mark: “They were astonished at the Lord Jesus, saying, From whence hath this Man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto Him, that [even] such mighty works are wrought by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary”—standing right there—”the brother of James, and Joseph, and Jude, and Simon? and are not His sisters right here with us? And they were offended in Him” [Mark 6:2-3]. And remember the famous saying of our Lord, “And Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor”—now, you look at how He frames it: “A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” [Mark 6:4]. Very patently, plainly, lucidly, expressly, statedly, when you study it closely, there was a deep repudiation of the Lord Jesus by James, and he led the whole household after him [John 7:5].
A final confirmation of that is in the Gospel of John. In the seventh chapter of the Gospel of John, there is a dialogue between James, the brethren of the Lord, and the Lord Jesus concerning His appearance in Jerusalem at the Feast of the Tabernacles. And they say to Him: “All of these things You say they are done in secret. Why don’t You come publicly where the whole world can see that You do these things, if You do them?” [John 7:3-4]. Then John makes the succinct little word, “For His brethren did not believe in Him” [John 7:5]. James and those brothers, and that carried the whole household, they did not believe in Him.
And you see a final confirmation of that when Jesus is dying on the cross. And there is His mother: there is His mother standing at the cross [John 19:25]. Wouldn’t you have thought He would have said to James, “James, take good care of her.” James is her son. James is His brother. “James, take good care of My mother.” No, what He does is He turns to John and says, “John, look at your mother! and Mother, look at your son.” And John adds, “From that day on he took her to his own house” [John 19:26-27]. Just a glimpse of some of the things in the life of our Lord that we hardly realize.
Now sweet people, if this were all, I doubt I would have mentioned it; just one of those sorrowful things that our Lord endured, over which He wept and cried. But there is more—and this more, there is a marvelous prophecy that God has revealed to us. When the Lord was raised from the dead, according to the fifteenth chapter of the First Corinthian letter [1 Corinthians 15:4], the apostle Paul names one, two, three, the great leaders of the Christian faith to whom the Lord intimately and personally appeared. He says first, “He appeared to Cephas” [1 Corinthians 15:5]—to Simon Peter. He says second, “He appeared to James” [1 Corinthians 15:7]—the Lord’s brother. And then third, “last of all He was seen of me, as of one born out of due time” [1 Corinthians 15:8].
So the Lord, raised from the dead, appeared to those three men. And there is something in common with all three of them. Cephas, swearing and denying and cursing, “I never saw Him. I never looked at Him. I do not know Him” [Matthew 26:69-74]. And Jesus appears to Simon Peter: “Simon . . . lovest thou Me?” “Yea, Lord: You know I do.” “Then shepherd My flock. Feed My sheep” [John 21:15-17]; Simon Peter. The third one, “Saul, yet breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” [Acts 9:1], with letters to strange cities to bring them bound [Acts 9:2, 26:11], and when he says, as they appeared before the court, “I cast my vote against them, that they be executed” [Acts 26:10]. And the third one—I mean, and the second one, the one in the middle here, is James—James [1 Corinthians 15:7]. All three of these men repudiating the Lord. And the second one he names is James, His own brother. And in that personal confrontation, and in that personal revelation—the apokalupsis as the Revelation calls it; the apokalupsis, the self-revelation of our Lord, He won James to the faith. And James won his brethren to the faith [Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 15:7]. And when you read the Book of Acts, it starts off with a prayer meeting [Acts 1:12-26]. And in that prayer meeting of the one hundred twenty, Dr. Luke is careful to note that in the group is James and the brethren of the Lord [Acts 1:13-14].
May I point out one other thing?—the humility of this man. Listen to him. James ho doulos—James, a “slave” of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ; would not deign to say he was the Lord’s own brother. But begins it, Iakobos . . . ho doulos theou Iēsou Christou—”James, a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ” [James 1:1]. Now dear people, I said this all is a great prophecy, and to me it is. Now, this is an interpretation. I am not saying that I am infallible in the way that I read the Word of God. So many times when I am in a group of liberals, they are very careful to point out to me, “Now you must remember, that is your interpretation.”
Well, I said, “That’s right.”
I always say, “That’s right. That’s my interpretation!”
But then, I hasten to add, “But it is the right interpretation. It is, I tell you.”
Now this is an interpretation, but it is one that I profoundly believe. When the apostle Paul says, first He appeared to Cephas [1 Corinthians 15:5], then He appeared to James [1 Corinthians 5:7], then last of all, He appeared to me, ektrōmati—translated, “as of one born out of due time” [1 Corinthians 15:8]—all of that; “as of one born out of due time” is the translation of that one word—ektrōmati. What is ektrōmati? Well, the translation is fine. The literal word is in an “abortion”—abortion. Ektrōmati is abortion; that is, the child is born before the day it was supposed to be born. Ektrōmati—He appeared unto me “as in an abortion before the day.” As it said, “as one born out of due time”—”one born before the time.” Well, what does he mean when he says, “as of one born out of due time, before the time, in an abortion, before I should have been”?
Now this is what I think that means. In the great prophecy of Zechariah, chapters 12, 13, and 14 [Zechariah 12-14], the prophet says that the Lord Jesus shall personally appear to His brethren, to His people, to His nation. And he says, “they shall look on Him whom they pierced” [Zechariah 12:10]. “And they shall say, Whence these scars, these nail prints in Your hands and in Your feet? And He will say, These are the scars I received in My own house among My own people from My own brethren” [Zechariah 13:6]. And the prophet says: “And there shall be a great mourning in Israel, like that at Hadad Rimmon” when they mourned over Josiah, the good king [Zechariah 12:11; 2 Kings 23:29-30]. There will be a great mourning in Israel. Then, the prophet says, “there shall be a fountain opened for cleansing” [Zechariah 13:1]. And the nation will be cleansed, and the nation will be saved, and the nation will accept their Lord. And the prophet says, “He shall be King over the whole earth” [Zechariah 14:9]. I think that’s what Paul means; before the time that the Lord appears to His own people [Zechariah 12:10], before the time that they are converted and saved by a personal appearance of the blessed risen Lord; “Before the time He appeared to me, ektrōmati, as in an abortion, before that final and ultimate day” [1 Corinthians 15:8].
I’ve had many people say to me, “You know, I don’t know whether that’s quite right, or quite fair or not, that the Lord Jesus would appear to His own people.” Well, let me ask you just for a moment. Let me ask you. When the Lord Jesus was crucified [Matthew 27:32-50], and when He was buried in the tomb [Matthew 27:57-60], and His brethren, His own brothers and sisters did not believe on Him [John 7:5], let me ask you, would you have been glad? Would you have been delighted? Would you have rejoiced had the Lord returned to heaven? And there is James and His own people who don’t believe in Him. Would you rejoice? Wouldn’t you say that is the saddest of all the records that you could find in sacred story, that His own brethren with whom He grew up in Nazareth, they did not believe in Him. And they died in rejection. Would you say that? The obverse: then aren’t you glad? Aren’t you glad that before He returned back to heaven, He appeared to James [1 Corinthians 5:7] and through him won the family to the faith?
Now let me project it in the prophecy at the time of the end. I do not know of a race of people to whom we owe a greater debt than to Israel; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the patriarchs, the Bible, the Son of God, all a gift from them. Why aren’t we white savages? Because of the preaching of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God brought to us by Christian missionaries. The whole hope we have for heaven lies in what Israel has done for us: given us our Bible, given us our Savior, given us the great monotheistic revelation of God.
Now the same. Shall I rejoice in their damnation? No! Shall I be glad that the consummation of the age, they are shut out and forever? No! As I am glad that before He returned to glory, He appeared personally to James and won him to the faith [1 Corinthians 15:7], so I am glad reading in the prophecy that when He comes again, He will appear to His brethren. And in a great confession and mourning, they will turn in faith to the Lord [Zechariah 12:11-12]. Won’t that be great when all of Israel believes in Jesus, and all of us Gentiles believe in the Lord Jesus [Romans 11:25-33], and He is our exalted King [Zechariah 14:9].
And in one voice and in one paean of praise and in one great hallelujah chorus, we all sing together, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches . . . and honor and glory” [Revelation 5:12]. And the four and twenty elders, twelve from the patriarchs, twelve from the apostles, the redeemed of all time bow down and worship Him who liveth forever and ever [Revelation 5:14]. What a day that will be! And that’s what God says in His Book. Oh, the infinitude of the mercy [Titus 3:5], and compassion and grace of our blessed Jesus! [Ephesians 2:8].
And Lord, just thank You for including me in that household of faith, in the chosen family of God, writing my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15], counting me among the redeemed of the Lord [1 Peter 1:18-19]. O God, thank You for saving me. And thank You, Lord, for saving the circle of these whom I love [John 3:16]. And thank You, Lord, for the increasing fellowship of the redeemed of God in this dear and wonderful church. O blessed Jesus, I just wish that when the time comes, we all here could just go up together to meet the Lord. I wish it could be at a service in which we were praising the name of Jesus. Wouldn’t it be sweet, that He appears to us with gracious nail pierced hands welcoming us to our eternal and final and heavenly home? [John 14:2-3].
And that’s why we pray and we preach and we make appeal, that you be included in that heavenly number, giving your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], trusting Him as your Savior [Ephesians 2:8], pilgrimaging with us in the glory road that leads to heaven. And that is our invitation this precious hour. A family you, a couple you, just one somebody you; in the balcony round, the throng of you there; on this lower floor the press of people; from side to side; “Pastor, I have made this decision in my heart and I am coming. I have decided for God, and I am on the way.” Down a stairway, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor. I am coming this morning.” God bless and angels attend as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
JAMES, THE LORD’S BROTHER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Review of the text
B. James one of the most common names in Jewish households
C. Three James of note in the New Testament(Acts 12)II. The vast prominence of the man
A. In the New Testament
1. Speaks finally, authoritatively at Jerusalem conference(Acts 15:13, 19)
2. Speaking about conference, Paul names James first (Galatians 2:9)
3. Peter sends special word to James (Acts 12:17)
4. Paul reports to James(Acts 21:17-21)
5. Jude introduces himself as the brother of James(Jude 1)
B. In apocryphal literature
C. In Christian literature beyond the New TestamentIII. His family
A. Leader of Jesus’ family in unbelief(Mark 3:21, 31, 33-35, 6:2-4)
B. Confirmation in John he was an unbeliever(John 7:5, 19:26-27)IV. His conversion
A. Jesus appears personally to three leaders of the church – Peter, James and John(1 Corinthians 15:5-8, John 21:15-17, Acts 9:1)
B. James led the family to the faith(Acts 1:14, James 1:1)
C. Type of the Jewish nation – appeared “before the time”(1 Corinthians 15:8, Zechariah 12:10-13:1, 6, 14:4, 6, 9)